Romia Reid, a chemistry teacher at Middle College HS in Long Island City, is a master teacher, one of the new teacher leadership positions created in the 2014 contract, but she says all her teaching ideas come from the other teachers in the school.
One difficult aspect of her position is the name. In reality, at least as her colleagues at Middle College see her, Reid is a talented teacher but not their master. She is a resource.
“There is no implication she is coming in to make a judgment,” said Rob Perrillo, who has taught math at Middle College for the past 10 years. Reid, who is working with the math department this year, is not trying to compel a uniform teaching style. Instead, Perrillo said, she looks at student outcomes with the teachers and brainstorms ways to help.
“They are very open to what I do. I credit my colleagues,” said Reid.
Middle College is one of 62 Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) — a program that encourages teachers to take more leadership in their schools, waiving some rules to encourage collaboration.Reid attends math classes for what she calls “low-inference observations,” then conferences with the teacher afterward. She works with teachers to break down data and see how students of varying abilities responded to their lessons.
“We look at the strategies they used and how they use them for student inquiry,” she explained.
Middle College is a screened-entry high school that focuses on high-risk students. Principal Linda Siegmund says most incoming freshmen are at Level 1 or 2. There are a handful of 3s, but no 4s. Many have a record of poor attendance. The school is intentionally housed at LaGuardia Community College to offer students the opportunity to take some college courses. It is designed to get disengaged high school students onto a college track.
Inquiry — posing problems — is the instructional approach that the school uses to engage students in questioning and finding solutions.
“I was using a lot of traditional approaches, and I was losing a lot of my kids — most of them,” recalls 9th- and 10th-grade algebra teacher Virginia Lazzaro. “I would teach: ‘These are the steps, you follow them and get the answer.’ I thought I was doing a good job, but when we looked at the data it wasn’t working.”
In two of her classes, Lazzaro had a lot of special education students who had trouble following her. Reid suggested she try making the objective of her lessons more explicit. Then, with Reid’s help, she decided to try an approach in which getting the right answer was less important than asking questions.
“Because we allowed them to make mistakes, they asked more questions. They were not afraid,” Lazzaro recounted. “There was a huge impact on kids.”
Lazzaro cited a student who that day had volunteered to present her work, even though she knew it had errors, in order to think through the problem with classmates.
“It’s OK for them to struggle. Let them struggle,” said Reid. “They learn from their mistakes.”
When Giulia Preda-Bruce, who teaches geometry and trigonometry, had problems getting students to write about a math problem, Reid offered graphic organizers, which helped students verbalize the solutions they found.
“Romia customized a strategy for me that worked well in writing to describe a math process” said Preda-Bruce. “She comes as a support system.”
Reid teaches one fewer class a day to give her time to coach. She also works extra hours and days. She herself has a coach, a team teacher leader from the Department of Education. And her collegial principal offers solid backup, forming a network of support for her classroom efforts.
For her, the new position has been just as much a learning experience. “It opens my eyes,” she said. “I am more comfortable now talking with colleagues across disciplines.”